Northwest soccer rivalry gets national attention

Sep 13, 2012, 10:08 AM | Updated: 10:24 am

This weekend, soccer fans across America will find out what we in Oregon and Washington have known for nearly 40 years: Portland and Seattle have one of the more fierce sports rivalries anywhere.

On Saturday, NBC television takes its national Major League Soccer regular-season coverage to Portland’s Jeld-Wen Field. The man calling the action is no stranger to the rivalry: Arlo White, the popular former Seattle Sounders voice.

I spent a few minutes this week catching up with the busiest man in soccer announcing. White covered both men’s and women’s matches at this summer’s London Olympics, and now wants to show the United States what a real rival soccer derby is all about.

“I was recently on a cross-country flight and the airline magazine had a six-page article on the Sounders-Timbers rivalry with Roger Levesque being the central character,” White said. “And the first paragraph of the article said, ‘Forget the Yankees-Red Sox,’ basically saying the Timbers-Sounders rivalry is the fiercest and biggest in U.S. sports.

“Those who are not familiar with it are about to get their first taste of it Saturday, and I don’t think it will let them down. They’ll be shocked by the ferocity and raucousness of the atmosphere.”

While Portland and Seattle play in sold-out stadiums every game, several MLS teams are struggling to attract and retain fans. I asked White whether this type of rivalry exposure can help boost soccer attendance in other regions.

“You would hope New England would fill their stadium more for regional rivalries with teams like New York, D.C. and Philadelphia, but it doesn’t seem to happen for them,” White said. “Being on NBC and showcasing this rivalry to the nation, seeing how legit Major League Soccer is, could fuel the flames for more rivalries to catch fire.”

Portland won the first meeting 2-1 on its home turf. The Timbers lead the Cascadia Cup standings over Seattle and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

While White has been traveling all over the planet, he has kept close tabs on the Sounders. He’s confident this could be Seattle’s year to make a serious run in the MLS playoffs.

“The starting 11 looks absolutely frightening for the opposition,” he said. “Eddie Johnson has sparked Fredy Montero into a formative life. Is there a better forward striking duo in MLS? I don’t think so.

“There may be a few question marks about their defense, but Seattle will always score goals. I see them mounting a very serious challenge for the Supporters’ Shield and for MLS Cup.”

Seattle fans get the best of both worlds Saturday with White’s NBC television crew and the radio call from Ross Fletcher and Kasey Keller on 97.3 KIRO FM. First kick is at 12:30.

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